The days of wild rumours running up to, and castigations following, Nuhu Ribadu’s defection to the ruling party are further confirmations of the man’s high place in the political conscience of the nation. That his supporters would be disappointed at such an unpopular political scheme is a backlash he must have foreseen, its risks calculated, before appending his signature on the membership form of a tragically failed party, whose underperforming members have been the main trouble with Nigeria since 1999.
Initially, I intended to read the varying testimonies of disappointment by his supporters in silence, out of sincere respect for the man I’ve known as a highflying citizen and exemplary public servant, one I defended even when he accepted to serve as chairman of a presidential committee in spite of the criticisms of fence-sitting citizens who considered the service compromise, obsessed with expectations of mere criticisms to change the system. But noticing pettiness, including the fabrication of an anti-APC statement purported to have come from the man, which he has already debunked on his Facebook page, hack written by petty analysts, I find my silence would be a grave injustice to this resourceful and, in the biology of Nigerian politics, “young” leader of a nation in urgent need of his ilk. It’s one thing to criticise, it’s another thing to employ clearly flawed arguments in doing so.
From my observations, I discerned that there are battalions of “I used to like Ribadu” army whose gloating commentaries are expressions of their previously held, and perhaps infrequently discussed, perceptions of Nuhu Ribadu. I categorise them, with honest mischief, into three categories. Each represents the core three power blocs, with peculiar sentimentalities that separate their criticisms from objectivity:
The first battalion is of largely northerners comprising the grassroots and the urban electorate who still despise Ribadu as the spoiler who conspired with the Yoruba of the southwest against the messianic presidential bid of General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2011 elections and then got sold out by his master, Bola Tinubu. To this battalion, Ribadu remains an enemy of the region, a politically naive one, whose party was paid billions of naira to deliver the southwest to President Goodluck Jonathan. Of course, there is nothing verifiable in their allegation. It’s one of those figments of the imagination blurted out over hot shayi and Indomie on lazy evenings.
The second battalion is actually that of honestly disappointed supporters; these are the south-western critics. They are the most educated region of the country, with impressive control of the media and great comprehension of practicable political ideology, at least when compared to the north and the eastern parts. Their grouse find its root in a party which developed in their backyard adopting a non-member of their ethnicity as presidential candidate, this battalion is understandably irked by the defection of this same man. What this battalion cannot convincingly explain is how their electorate voted their kinsmen as governors, yet Ribadu only managed to win a single state in the southwestern region where their political machinery is demonstrably the strongest. Perhaps the media hype on the “newbreedist” ideology and integrity of Nuhu Ribadu could not convince their Iya Bisira clientele, comprising the agberos and the unlettered market-women, that this northerner is not in the league of the General Babangidas who once dispossessed their son of a genuinely won mandate, crushing their ethnic pride. Who knows?
The third battalion of critics is mostly the hypocritically indifferent easterners and their brothers in the bottom south whose son, who was then in power and would go on to win the 2011 presidential elections, was the presidential candidate of the ruling party in the time Nuhu Ribadu emerged as contender. Being the most commercially vibrant region of the country, the activities of Ribadu and the late Dora Akunyili as principled men of the Obasanjo days, quite affected this region. While Dora’s clampdown on importers in the food and pharmaceutical industries made her an openly despised upright woman amongst her Igbo kinsmen, Ribadu’s monitoring of financial irregularities, at the time cybercrime and credit-card scams were the most lucrative among fraudulent Nigerians, made him a revered boogeyman. More people in this commercial hub of the nation have their sentiments, which actually is a plus for Ribadu, to ridicule the man who initiated and revolutionised the fight against financial scams and institutional corruption.
And of course, there’s the nameless battalion of the disgruntled APC sympathisers who only remember that one of their members is “behaviorally flawed” only when he joins another party. I don’t take these serious.
Though these categorisations are not ethnically based, as it only attempts to pun the regions with more members of the battalions, their existence is undeniably highlighted in the reactions to Ribadu’s defection. The battalions of critics have now regained their energy to amplify their vengeful dislike for this boogeyman of a malfunctioning system. Sadly, in in their attempts to dismiss him, they find themselves in a box of contradictions.
As a self-admitted APC sympathiser, I refuse to join any of the Ribadu-bashing battalions in this moment of his political trial. Rather, I expect his defection to serve as a challenge for the opposition party to put its house in order. My disappointment in Adamawa has been from the hour Governor Nyako embarked on his conspiracy theory misadventure. And it’s actually sad that APC couldn’t rescue its drowning member from what was instigated by the opposing forces of the PDP. In my piece of April 25, 2014, I wrote:
“The pulse of the nation has changed ever since Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State embarked on his ‘conspiracy theory’ campaigns, accusing the Presidency of complicity in the growing insurgency in the north-east; with actually only conjectural proofs. This conduct makes the return to Aso Rock in 2015 much easier for GEJ. The more cheap and unverifiable propagandas and conspiracies are propounded by those who should know better, the more he becomes more electable in a country this polarised. There was almost a consensus in our dismissal of GEJ as an irredeemably failed President, before these torrents of sentiments begin to blur our senses of perception.” – See more at:https://www.premiumtimesng.
Perhaps members of the APC Battalions, some of who dismissed mine then as misplaced, didn’t bother to understand that their principal’s tendering of embarrassingly infantile evidences was an ill-devised relevance-seeking stunt. Today, Nyako is history in Adamawa. Even the Abuja-based power-brokering politicians of Adamawa descent capable of rescuing the situation failed, because Nyako had embarked on a war without an army, his lawmakers lost, council chairmen lost, and party loyalists too lost. What Nyako’s sympathisers have not told us is whether the misappropriation of Adamawa’s public funds is also a conspiracy theory!
Some of us need to draw a line between sympathy to a party and logical analyses of our socio-political reality. Despite my sympathy to APC, its members have been among the most criticised in my weekly column. I remember, in a discussion with Mallam Nasir ElRufai’s son, Bello, over my shared views on the politics and personalities of some frontline public figures, he said, “If you condemn the ElRufais and the Sanusi Lamidos, who are the alternatives?”
I understood his concern, and I reminded him of the instances I praised the El-Rufais and the Lamidos, while noting our lines of divergence. But, no matter what, despite their shortcomings, they’re our hope, ahead of the James Iboris and their compliant cronies, in this struggle for a better nation. So I was among those who refused to employ ElRufai’s past scathing remarks on General Buhari, and patronising praise of Goodluck Jonathan – I don’t know if those too were fabricated – when he finally pitched tent with the former, against the party that fielded the later.
Ideology is still a myth in Nigerian politics. Which is why we’re sensitive to the personalities of our politicians; and APC, understandably, has more people of impressive integrity than PDP. This, theoretical, may be because APC is not yet in charge of the affairs of the federal government. Political orientation in Nigeria is so flawed, development of ideology is overlooked. Ours has always been politics of money, and death. As my good brother, Japheth Omojuwa, rightly highlighted in his contribution to this defection scandal: “The time for voting ideologies will come after we have a sane society.” Absolutely!
Our concentration on scrutinising the personality of Ribadu instead of critically comparing the ideologies of the two major political parties involved in this scandal is a loud agreement that our politics is not yet ideologically definable, only personality-driven. Take Buhari, Kwankwaso, Fashola, Amaechi, and other highflying personalities out of APC now, and you will understand my argument. The lack of ideology is simply over-dependence on the personalities of party stalwarts, instead of on implemented and sustainable manifestoes and recognisable political culture. If Buhari defects from APC today, be sure of instant withdrawal of sympathy for APC by his supporters. This is the tragedy of our political reality!
On the question of Ribadu’s personality, one common case against him from all the battalions is that he’s “politically immature”. And my poser to such an accuser in a debate on an online forum was a demand to know the metric scale he adopted in measuring “maturity”, or the lack of it, as an aspiring political administrator. And if such maturity has been really helpful, why is Adamawa State, which Ribadu now aspires to govern, a mess under the “mature” Governor Murtala Nyako? Another critic referenced the “temperament” of Nuhu Ribadu as a behavioral flaw, a psycho-analysis that warranted me to again demand to know of Ribadu’s outbursts and decision that portray him as such. If Ribadu’s leadership of EFCC was what that fellow considered temperament-driven, then we must list temperament as a quality required from those aspiring to manage the political affairs of this bedlam of a nation. The last I checked, even General Buhari was seen as temperamental in his days in office. Yet, Nigeria under him was considerably redeemed!
Each APC battalion contradicts itself in the way it ridicules its defecting members. One of the things I couldn’t tolerate was a partisan analyst suddenly calling Ali Modu Sheriff a Boko Haram sponsor or founder for simply porting to PDP while he didn’t say so when the man was in APC. We all know that Boko Haram was badly managed by former Governor Sheriff, and if we had adopted a personality-checking measure in calculating degrees of sainthood, which in Sheriff’s case is devilry, APC wouldn’t have given these people prominence in its “progressive” circles. But we must be delusional to agree that APC can win an election in a democracy this hopelessly undemocratic, if integrity alone is the barometer of their membership. The Ali Sheriffs are heroes to their grassroots who have no idea what democracy really is, and are thus uncritical of such principals. Their followers are what APC need to wrestle power from the ruling party. The political clout and influence of former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, for instance, is enough to float a new party!
Some of us had never imagined Buhari on the same platform with the Ali Modu-Sherrifs and the Bola Tinubus. But what can we do? Do you think Buhari would have any chance of reaching out to his supporters without these “corrupt” men? Do you know the number of corrupt individuals who have contributed to the many campaigns of Buhari, a self-admitted poor man in the elite circle, over these years? You really don’t know the political elite, don’t know that, despite declared differences in the public and in especially the media, they remain members of one unhappy family bound by shared interests.
The travesty of this era is that the underperforming governors of this PDP administration are getting away with their misappropriations because the people overlook their crimes overwhelmed by the massive failure of the federal government. I praised Kwankwaso as a performer while he was in PDP, but that stance remained unchanged when he eventually defected to APC. In fact, a friend even tweeted that I was paid to praise Kwankwaso simply because the man, whose populist policies are incomparable in the north, was in PDP. Ours is really that pedestrian. Kwankwaso’s achievements as a governor were recorded under an underperforming federal government. What have his colleagues in Abia, Niger, Adamawa, name it, been waiting for? Obviously, the federal government hasn’t been withholding their allocations!
My romance with APC is simply out of a wish to see a structurally defined opposition, an alternative likely to put the misbehaving members of the ruling party on their toes. But while I defend APC, I’m not uncritical of its own ideological hollowness. We criticise to challenge them to be better, and our support is also to inspire them to offer up a better alternative for the people. That supposedly principled members left APC is indeed an indication of its failing. But that, too, isn’t proof that PDP is better. When the Femi-Fani-Kayodes defected, there was a unanimous yell of “Good Riddance!” from many quarters. Because we couldn’t point to their achievements in their days in public service, which is a necessary reality check. The trial of Ribadu is a commentary on the place of the morally advantaged and the “lesser evils” in our prebendal politics, and this outcome of what many critics consider a miscalculation may further expose the filths of this destructive democracy – and also challenge the man, if he’s eventually favoured, to have his name rewritten in the good book of a people seeking to diminish him. May God save us from us!
Gimba Kakanda, a public analyst and commentator writes from Abuja. Please follow him on twitter @gimbakakanda.